As an introduction to this review, let me give you some insight about Silent Hill's genre. Silent Hill is the finest example of a survival horror
experience, a term in which to today refers to games such as Dead Space, Condemned, Amnesia, and whilst I have played them all, and they are decently scary, and fun, they don't hold a candle to memorable, compelling, and terrifying atmosphere of Silent Hill.
Ultimately the term seems to have turned into something that applies to anything with scarce ammunition and monsters. But it wasn't always like that! An example of pure survival horror masterpiece would be the very first Silent Hill, released on the very first PlayStation console back in 99.
The reason why this, and it's fore-released inspiration, Resident Evil, are more true a horror experience, is for one simple reason; a creepy premise, and frightening atmosphere. And both games set their tone immediately
, and be damn sure that you get the message that you should be scared to play this game. Survival Horror games today don't even come close to this, and seem to focus more on the actual jump scares more then the absolutely essential need for atmosphere.
Now, if you're wondering how I can say that the games I've mentioned above have no atmosphere, allow me to demonstrate.
Dead Space. It sets it's tone on the fact that you are completely alone in a ship of mutated aberrations. Given. Scary? Yeah! Who wouldn't be freaked out by those things?
But in Silent Hill... What happens? You awaken from a car crash, searching for your precious daughter, only seven-year-old, in a foggy, desolate town. Every single road leading out of it is blocked. And among the monsters and hopeless feeling ensued. You find this:
Eventually, the deeper you tread into Silent Hill, the darker, and more twisted things become. You begin to uncover the secrets behind a dark cult called "The Order", in which is causing this to happen. You begin to find that your daughter has been leaving you vaguely written clues, on bits of paper from the sketchbook that you bought her when she was five. You can feel her presence, always looming over you, guiding you, but never seen.
You do get reunited, but I'll keep the spoilers out of this.
The actual premise is very simple: survive, and get out and save your daughter.
To do this... you must traverse every inch of this town until you find her.
Once you get the gun, you save your ammunition. Once you get the light, and the radio, you shut them off
until necessary. Keep your health packs close. Because if you use any of this excessively, you will have much trouble escaping the horrors of Silent Hill.
But along the way, difficult puzzles will show up. That will test your mind, your patience, and quite possibly, sanity.
Let me explain:
This is an example of a puzzle within the game. In order to obtain the item required to advance, you have to press those keys in a very specific order. And this is your hint.
"A Tale Of Birds Without A Voice
. First flew the greedy Pelican, eager for the reward. White wings flailing. Then came a silent Dove, flying beyond the Pelican, as far as he could. A Raven flies in, flying higher than the Dove. Just to show he can. A Swan glides in to find a peaceful spot next to another bird. Finally, out comes a Crow, coming quickly to a stop, yawning and then napping. Who will show the way? Who will be the key? Who will lead to the silver reward?
I'd rather not spoil the actual solution, so here's a hint: Think about those birds, their colour, then look back at the keys. And think closely of "birds without a voice". Imagine in 1999, with no internet, solving this puzzle that requires diligence and deductive reasoning. Nothing more then your mind can get you through this hell.
And this, my friends, is what sets Silent Hill among the rest of the newer generation of horror games. Puzzles, creepy atmosphere, and a true
sense of hopelessness, not just up to your elbows in monsters. You feel like the game itself wants you to fail.
So what keeps you going through this? The thought of saving your daughter. The utter curiosity of, whatever the hell is going on here. The atmosphere, and premise of the game ALONE compel you to keep going. You feel like you are actually seeking something dear and important to you, and you are going through hell to do it.
And I do mean, hell.
throughout the game, you frequently transport to this realm known as The Otherworld
, a hellish dimension that seems like something out of a terrible nightmare, in where the monsters and atmosphere gets much more intense, and bleak. The entire game, and it's subsequent entries, all feel like a terrible nightmare, due to this
unique element. An actual atmosphere!!
You have no control over when the world will shift, but when it fades away, Harry, the main character, always feels like he just woke up from a dream. He feels like the characters he meets in the otherworld aren't real, because all of the characters he meets in that world, don't exist in the standard world he knows. The world that looks real, the eerie projection of Silent Hill enveloped in fog, isn't what it looks like. It's not real either. You will always feel like you just stumbled into another part of your nightmare. And even through to the end, even with the most canon ending, it's hard to decipher whether to not it's supposed to be true.
When it does change to the Otherworld, expect to see this, alot
This symbol sets up everything about Silent Hill's story. Simply put, it's the symbol of The Order's deity. It's their Cross, their Star of David. It's called the Seal of Metatron, the symbol of the demon, Samael. Your biggest demon, and your biggest sentiment that you have to face. If you make it to the end of this game, you will find out just how bleak and twisted the concept of this deity is, but through and through, you are constantly told how it will cause untold havoc if awakened. And just what lengths The Order is willing to go to make it happen. And, guess what? Only you can stop it.
Spoiler-free, that pretty much sets up the story. So lets discuss the gameplay.
The first thing you notice in any game, is the controls. The controls in this game are stiff, clunky, and awkward to control. This is intentional, and it's quite possibly the most genius thing to ever implement. The reason they designed it like this is due to the fact that they encourage
running away. The game isn't like this to make it harder for you, it's made like this to try and make things easier for you. Emphasis on try, and that's what modern survival horror games can't manifest, the fact that it feels like the developers are trying their hardest to make you survive
! You actually feel that, because if you're running past, likely, you WILL be able to survive. Not necessarily
unscathed, but breathing! You can tell that they gave the monsters just the right amount of polish so that they aren't impossibly overpowered, yet can still end you in a matter of minutes. This, as the name implies, is survival
horror. And that's just the beginning. There is multiple endings that unlock secret weapons, items, and even a secret, joke ending. The possibilities in this game are endless, and you can tell how full of life the developers where.
Everything in this game feels polished to a shine, and the art and sound design give off the most chilling, and emotion tingling vibe, surpassing any other. The scares are so subtle that sometimes you don't even know what that sound was, or why it made you jump, but when it did, you clutch to your controller tighter then you'd anticipate. And even when you're done, the eerie, ingeniously crafted atmosphere just... calls you back. Just like the town in the fictitious universe does. I've never seen a game that can manifest itself so purely as to feel like you are actually apart of it's lore. In other words; Buy. This. Game.
So lets recap on what makes a truly fantastic, memorable horror game, just because I like gushing over it.
-A truly chilling premise.
-Emotion grabbing, compelling story
-Desperately clinging on to your items.
-Puzzle solving that makes the game itself feel like its against you
-A higher force, a demon, looming over you.
-Subtle, memorable scares,
-Being constantly guided into the darkness by the one you need to find
And developers that are full of life to guide you along it.
That my friends the recipe for an amazing survival horror experience.
So the next time you play Resident Evil 6's Leon segment, or creep down any corridor with low bullets and say, "wow, this is very survival horror-esque", remember that in order to make a survival horror experience, a survival horror experience
, there's more too it than just creepy monsters, and bleak weaponry.
Hope you enjoyed reading!